Photo credit: PBS/Frontline website

The PBS series Frontline recently aired a program called “Digital Nation”, which looked at how we as individuals, and a society, have been affected by the growth in digital technology over the last few decades.


     A few things of note from that program, which you can view online here:


     Stanford University Professor Clifford Nass said his studies found that multi-taskers are terrible at every aspect of multi-tasking. They’re distracted constantly; their memory is very disorganized. He suggested they may be the worst at analytic reasoning, and expressed a worry that such multi-tasking may be creating people unable to think well or think clearly.

     Nass, who tested how quickly students could switch between tasks without losing focus, also said that the students he studied at Stanford were doing five to six things at once, and that, in general, the brain can’t handle two things at once.

     On the other hand, in some cases, technology in the classroom seems to be a boon. One teacher interviewed for the program said she created a Ning site for her students to use as characters from To Kill a Mockingbird. She said they can write discussion questions, and post comments on each others’ blogs.

     She also said it’s amazing that they’re so into the novel, and admitted she’d been worried they wouldn’t grasp it.

     Other issues discussed in the Frontline episode include gaming; using virtual reality to hold meetings in cyberspace; and how the military is using kids’ enjoyment of videogames as a “soft sell” recruiting tool.

     It’s well worth watching.

     And thanks, in part, to our digital world, people are able to add their own thoughts and comments. Among those are the actor Sir Patrick Stewart, who stated on YouTube that he doesn’t use Twitter. He said he sees no reason to have it in his life, and that to reduce life to 140 characters seems to be a little bit simplistic.

     “Maybe I like complexity and abstraction too much,” Stewart said. On the other hand, he said his iPhone has become an extension of his hand, and E-Mail is an absolute essential. He loves it because he doesn’t like talking on the telephone or writing letters.

     You can view his comments here:

Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. said he loves technology and way it saves so much time in doing research. He said what took months or a year, he can do in minutes or hours or weeks.


     “We never could do the genealogical research that we do for ‘Faces of America’ and ‘African American Lives’ (both PBS series) without the Internet,” he said. “We could do it, but we’d all be dead by the time the results were in.”

     Watch Gates’ comments here:

Gates is definitely right about genealogical research being so much easier. From the Internet, I’ve gotten data from the 1930 census (the most recent one available), and from that I know not only how many extended family members lived at the apartment complex my great grandmother owned and operated, but also their occupations, what languages people who lived there spoke before coming to the U.S., and whether they were veterans.

     And I agree with Stewart about seeing no need for Twitter. I’ve never used it and doubt I ever will. And I’ve never seen the need to carry a cell phone everywhere I go, much less be on it all the time.

     As to E-Mails and letters, I regard an E-Mail message as an electronic letter, and format it accordingly.


   Speaking of technology, texting while driving should be a primary offense. Senate Bill 402, as passed by the State Senate on Jan. 26, and designed to amend 1949 PA 300, entitled “Michigan vehicle code,” would make it a secondary offense. Yes, Gov. Granholm should sign that bill into law, but only as a placeholder for a later, stronger, law making it a primary offense.

     There is no excuse for texting while driving.



     More thoughts about Lost. Earlier this month, I wrote that the detonation of the hydrogen bomb in 1977 may have resulted in the creation of a new timeline in which Oceanic 815 never crashed; and that when the explosion thrust Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Jin, Hurley, Sayid and Juliet back to the present, it would have been in the present of that new timeline, where they would be anomalies, existing both on the island and off.

     Well, we can forget about that theory. In the Feb. 16 episode, John Locke was buried the cemetery established since the plane’s crash. If the detonation of the bomb had resulted in the creation of a new timeline, then there would have been no such cemetery.

      So it seems those scenes involving the characters landing safely in Los Angeles are “what-if?” stories, as producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have said. But there are a lot of curious differences. Unlike the Hurley we’ve known, the Hurley we see in these “what if?” segments regards himself as very lucky. Rose works for Hurley in the “what-if” segments, but didn’t in the main story. Locke is still paralyzed in the “what-if” segments, but based on the fact that his girlfriend, Helen, is still with him, the injury either didn’t involve Locke’s con man father and/or Locke somehow convinced Helen to come back to him.

     So these aren’t just “what if the plane never crashed” stories. They’re “what if the plane never crashed, and these people were different to begin with” stories.

     We also learned more about Jacob and his unnamed rival, who has assumed Locke’s form. For expediency, let’s call him John until we get an actual name for him. John takes Sawyer to a cave where Sawyer sees his name and those of other Oceanic 815 passengers inscribed on the walls. John tells him that he and others are on the island because Jacob chose them as “candidates”, and that whatever decisions they made after that point weren’t of their own volition, but designed to inevitably bring them to the island.

     John then tells Sawyer he has three choices: do nothing; become “the new Jacob” and protect the island; or leave the island with John. Sawyer chose door number three.

     It’ll be interesting to see what “become the new Jacob” means. Is John speaking figuratively or literally? Would Sawyer, if he’d accepted, have assumed whatever abilities Jacob had, including, apparently, not aging? Remember when we first see Jacob, the statue is still standing, and it’s been a long time since that was the case.

     The idea of Sawyer (or any of the candidates) becoming the new Jacob in the literal sense reminds me of the Incarnations of Immortality books by Piers Anthony. In those books, Anthony establishes that (in publication order) Death, Time, Fate, War, Nature, Evil and Good are “Offices” held by mortals. From time to time, the officeholders change based on a variety of circumstances, including the nature of the “Office.” The person serving as the Incarnation of Time, for example, can only do so for the length of his or her lifetime when he or she assumed the “Office.” That’s because the Incarnation of Time lives backwards until the date of his or her birth.

     The series is a bit uneven, but an interesting read overall. However, I wouldn’t even bother with the eighth book, published years after the other seven, and concerning the Incarnation of Night. I wish I hadn’t wasted my money on that one.


     Finally, I went to see the advanced screening of Percy Jackson and the Olympians Feb. 11 at the Birmingham Palladium, but didn’t get in, despite arriving a half hour early. Some 150 of us in line were told at about 7:45 that the theatre was full. I know they overbook (it says so on the pass), but that’s ridiculous. If your theatre seats, say, 300, overbook by 50, not 150 (or more). More than a few people sounded disappointed that they didn’t get in.

     My nephew really wants to see that film, so I’m taking him this weekend to the Imax. Hope it’s good. All I know about it is that it’s based on a series of books, which I’ve never read, and that characters from Greek mythology are very much alive and well in today’s world.

     Maybe I’ll read the books one day.


Copyright 2010, Patrick Keating.



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